Snell Strikes Out First Seven, But Rays Can’t Avoid Sweep

AL record tying strikeout streak not enough to prevent Mariners sweep

It was a day to remember for Blake Snell. Pitching in Seattle for the first time, close to his hometown and in front of his family, it was always going to be special for Snell, but he came out sharp by even his rising standard. Snell struck out the side in the first. He did so again in the second. In all, Blake Snell struck out the first seven batters of the ballgame, tying an American League record in doing so.

He had eight strikeouts through three. Ten through four. Every inning it became clearer and clearer that the Rays’ lefty had something special going on Sunday afternoon in Seattle. Unfortunately, the Mariners would get the last laugh with two runs in the eighth to take the 2-1 win and a weekend sweep at Safeco Field.

Snell would, in the end, go six innings with twelve strikeouts on the evening. He allowed two hits, and neither of them came around to score. While his innings were limited by the number of pitches thrown, it was very much an “ace” kind of a start.

The Rays needed every bit of that start as well, as Felix Hernandez was in vintage form on Sunday. Hernandez, whose season had been a career lowlight to this point, looked sharp in pitching eight innings of one-run baseball. “King Felix” struck out seven batters of his own in the start. Hernandez wound up with the win, as the Mariners would rally in the bottom of the eighth.

Tampa Bay broke through for the first run of the game in the top of the fourth, with Daniel Robertson coming around from first to score on a Brad Miller double. It was the Rays’ first lead of the weekend series at Seattle, one in which Mariners pitching had been doing an excellent job of holding the Rays down.

Snell’s excellent start did not result in a win, however. In the bottom of the eighth, the Mariners managed to tie the game on a single by recently-traded outfielder Denard Span. The Tampa native singled home Andrew Romine to award Snell the dreaded no-decision. The Mariners took the lead shortly thereafter, with Dee Gordon looping a ball just barely over Daniel Robertson to single home Guillermo Heredia. It was all the Mariners needed.

Rays take AL lead in LOB

One of the issues with a team that doesn’t hit for much power is that they’re prone to leaving a lot of runners on base. These missed opportunities are a frustrating experience for the sports fan, especially when they become a habit. The Rays left the bases loaded in the fifth inning, their lead staying 1-0 when they could have blown the game open to keep Snell comfortably in front. The Rays are now first in the American League in runners left on base.

To a large degree, runners left on base are simply a symptom of a team that gets on base a lot. Indeed, the Rays are second in the AL in on base percentage behind only the New York Yankees, and that combined with below-average power hitting is just going to lead to a lot of people left on. For the most part it’s a good problem to have. However, with just five runs scored on the weekend for the Rays, they’re going to have to figure out more ways to convert those runners into runs.

Archer may miss a start

No less a source than Chris Archer himself told reporters on Sunday that he was “questionable” for his next start, which would be in St. Petersburg against the Mariners. A groin issue flared up during Saturday’s start and cast the Opening Day starter’s status into doubt.

More will be known on Archer’s status by the end of the day on Monday.

The Rays get a day off to travel back east after a second trip to the west coast, their final west coast road trip of the 2018 season.

Before returning to the Trop for a weekend series with the Mariners, Tampa Bay heads from Seattle to Washington to take on the Nationals. They did not get a lucky draw, with Max Scherzer scheduled to face the Rays on Tuesday night in the opener of the two game set. Nathan Eovaldi will be the starter for Tampa Bay against the Washington ace.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.